Author Archives: Bill Moulton

February Temp Records Melt After Leo DiCaprio “Warms Up” Oscars, Setting Twitter-sphere on Fire— So Where Do We Go From Here?

Earth’s temperature soared to a record high last month, nearly 1.5C degrees above average as measured by weather satellites. That’s a huge amount even in these record-breaking atmospheric times according to scientists at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

To put that in perspective, a 1.5C degree rise is the line in the sand established at the Paris Accords as not to be exceed by 2100. 

As February broke new weather ground, the month ended with Leonardo DiCaprio’s long-anticipated Oscar win. Indeed, the story that was the most tweeted Oscar moment of all-time was the mega star’s speech following his Best Actor victory in The Revenant.

DiCaprio started off by praising his fellow nominees and Martin Scorsese for mentoring him over the course of the past two decades, along with 20th Century Fox, his parents and his friends. Then, he made an impassioned call for the strongest action possible to address the threat of human-caused climate change:

“Making The Revenant was about man’s relationship to the natural world. A world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history. Our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow.

Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating.

We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people out there who would be most affected by this.

For our children’s children, and for those people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed.”

Millions of fans whom DiCaprio will never meet cheered his courageous words. With the Republican Party seemingly poised to nominate a celebrity climate-denier as the 45th President of the United States — with what may be the heaviest eco-footprint in America — it was appropriate that DiCaprio use his celebrity spotlight to remind the world of the looming threat to all of us.

DiCaprio deserves high praise for his nearly two decades of dedication to reducing carbon pollution, and his unwavering support for climate scientists and environmental activists. However, one man — as powerful and popular as Leo is—cannot fight climate change alone. DiCaprio may never win another Oscar. He may never have another opportunity to urge tens of millions of viewers to join the effort to preserve a livable planet.

So kudos to Leo for issuing this call to action while the world was watching. But now what? For me DiCaprio’s plea prompts the following question: How CAN and where DO Americans work collectively to fight climate change? The crisis, and other environmental challenges, need and deserve comprehensive ongoing national television coverage. Where and how else are we supposed to start talking about it as America’s favorite leading man implored us to do?

Perhaps one reason average citizens are not as concerned and ready to act as they should or could be is they don’t see regular coverage in the news and almost NEVER see solutions-oriented programming. It doesn’t yet exist. That void is a huge opportunity.

As a seasoned broadcast news journalist-turned-Green talk show host, I have spent more than a decade advocating for dedicated programming on these timely, complex and changing stories. For inexplicable reasons network news programmers have failed to see the “green light” and tend to view such shows as “too niched” or “too negative.”

But it’s a niche that affects all of us and If Americans are all about hope, fortitude, ingenuity, patriotism, can-do spirit and unwavering commitment to our children’s future then why not take on our most pressing environmental challenges? The most egative consequences will only be the outcome if we continue to ignore warning signs to act.

Where is it written that the eco-evolution shall not be televised? Why not chronicle the biggest story of our time, what’s happening to our life support system before our eyes? It’s so much more than ONE story (see www.thegreenfront.com and www.ecotalkradio.com).

The worsening climate crisis can most effectively be addressed with a concerted and comprehensive effort by mainstream news media, in both print and traditional broadcast/cable outlets. Only major networks and newspapers have sufficient resources to cover threats of this magnitude— and emerging opportunities— with the depth, breadth and long reach needed to be accessible by the mass public.

Progressive online news sites and social media alone cannot provide the trans-partisan discussions needed if we are to come up to speed quickly on what we are facing and what we can do to be “part of the solution.” It will require more than 140 characters and an attention span of more than a minute if we hope to succeed.

So while a call to action from even a high-profile figure, and global platform like the Oscars is a great and needed step it should serve as launching pad for a nationwide awareness campaign focused on the challenges posed by climate and other threats to nature, our life support system, as well as dynamic conversations on proposed and varied solutions from the best and brightest among us.

Personalities on the frontlines of sustainability are knowledgeable, passionate, hopeful and deserve to be widely seen and heard in 2016. Why not tap into their collective wisdom? There are hundreds— actually thousands— of change makers in the trenches from science, politics, business, activism, the arts and beyond eager to participate in conversations about solutions.

As DiCaprio told ABC’s Robin Roberts backstage after the Oscars, we need more citizens to get educated and taking action. Now.

“As I said in the speech, it is the most urgent crisis that we’ve ever faced as a civilization and the more people that talk about this and get involved and, as I said, vote for leaders who really want to make a difference, you know, we can actually tackle this problem.

We have the capacity to go 100 percent renewable using existing technologies, we just have to have the political will. Our very existence is at stake.”

Or put another way, if we don’t act soon, and icebergs continue to melt, we may all be in for a titanic amount of trouble. Since no one wants that, what are we waiting for?

Cultivating Calm As the Shift Hits the Fan

To say we are living in turbulent times is to state the painfully obvious. The political landscape veers between frightening and farcical on a nearly daily, if not hourly, basis.

As we reel from news of one act of terror to another horrific gun shooting and careen from extreme weather event to bracing for the latest sexual predator reveal, it is enough to make one want to hide under the covers and say “wake me up when it’s over.”

However tempting, that is not an option so how do we cope with the current chaos and relentless assaults on our sensibilities? Especially those of us who, for better or worse, have made it our life’s purpose to be agents of change? How can progressives advance the full agenda for a better tomorrow when politically motivated short term thinking is pushing us backwards fast? With so many messes to clean up when and if we do get turned around in the right direction, it feels downright daunting. Where do we find the fuel to keep going and sufficient energy to refill our hope tanks if we dare to care about the fate of the planet and humanity?

With so many bullets to dodge, the title of a weekend conference held at New York’s Omega Institute last month was especially intriguing: Being Fearless: Action in a Time of Disruption. As a passionate broadcast journalist-turned-environmental writer, commentator, speaker and advocate for action, even I was in need of a chutzpah and hope reboot in order to stay in the fight. Based on the West Coast, I had heard of the Institute—and its Center for Sustainable Living—but had never been. When I found myself with a rare free weekend in New York City last month, off I went.

Omega is a warm and welcoming place located in the Hudson Valley River town of Rhinebeck, where Chelsea Clinton famously wed in 2010. Situated on 250 acres, the camp-like setting includes a main hall for presentations, a large dining lodge where tasty “mostly vegetarian” fare is served cafeteria style and cabins of various age and size surround the center. Walking paths and gardens connect the buildings and in mid-October, flowers were still in bloom and the trees barely beginning to change color—a late start I was told—courtesy of global warming.

The weekend kicked off with a reception Friday evening for speakers. As media, I was included and immediately felt at home in the company of staff, presenters, and performers. After we joined attendees in the big hall, Omega’s CEO, Skip Backus, kicked things off with words that resonated about the need to take pause, listen and learn before we take action to make the kind of deep changes these times demand. Assembled with seemingly kindred spirits of varying backgrounds and professions, it felt comforting to be a part of something bigger, an oasis from the craziness, however fleeting.

There was a succession of speakers that first night, each compelling but the standout for me was Dr. Cornel West, a dynamic professor who is part historian, part poet, and part preacher. I had seen him on television but in person he weaved, bobbed and circled the podium like a spinning top, all the while giving social commentary in lines that rhymed and reflected a brilliant mind. In fact, the program bio called West “a provocative democratic intellectual” and the professor of philosophy and Christian practice lived up to that billing. Among his keen observations, “America is a problem-solving people but when it comes to catastrophe, we’re in denial.” He cautioned that “we will find out who we really are in these times.” Indeed West and many other speakers had a similar thread in their messages; if we don’t like what we’re seeing around us it will take a commitment to telling the truth and bearing witness to love and justice. As many who preceded him have also noted, we must love ourselves first and change within before changing the world.

One of the tools is practicing mindfulness, also not a new concept at least not where I come from. That said, it is one thing to talk about it and another to practice as I am learning.

Saturday morning kicked off with a meditation led by stress reduction guru Jon Kabat-Zinn. His soothing voice and friendly manner set a relaxed tone which continued into the next session with Rhonda Magee, a professor of contemplative law. Their topic was “mindfulness in the face of injustice” and “identity-based suffering.” All the talks were recorded as were performances by talented ensembles including Climbing PoeTree, a combo dance, poetry, rap group with mesmerizing moves that punctuated their social commentary.

The morning concluded with Paul Hawken giving his slideshow on “Project Drawdown” based on his book about the most impactful ways to reverse climate change. He includes some less obvious contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, like food waste—-the third largest factor—and solutions like educating women in developing countries to help them rise above poverty and have fewer children. I would liked to have heard something about the need to better educate all people to raise ecological literacy, especially here in the U.S. where an active and well-funded disinformation campaign has had such a negative impact on progress. The unmet potential of our mainstream news media to effectively counter economically motivated falsehoods and clear up confusion about our climate crisis is an inexcusable failure.

It is my longtime preoccupation with this lapse that drew me to the Fearless conference. In particular, a panel discussion featuring CNN contributor, Van Jones, and Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman about the Changing Roles and Responsibilities of Media. Bill Moyers was to have been on the panel, as well serve as conference keynoter, but he was not able to make it. Moyers was replaced by presidential historian, Jon Meacham whose current claim to fame is having been fearless enough to ask Donald Trump what he reads. Although Meacham is a contributor on MSNBC, offering analysis on the Trump presidency seen through a historical lens, media is not his primary focus and he said as much on the panel. Although not his fault, nor the conference planners, it would have been helpful to hear Moyer’s perspective, having worked in public television for decades.

That, and the fact the moderator did not steer the discussion in the direction of the panel’s title, yielded a discussion more focused on politics than the changing role and responsibilities of media. Despite the disappointing pivot there were some relevant and revealing quotes that emerged at the end of the panel and in the Q & A session that followed when news media and climate change briefly became the focus.

A bit of a disclaimer is in order here. With a long background in broadcast news, most of it spent working for the CBS Radio network, I experienced the impact of being heard on a national channel in terms of reach, even if only reading breaking news of the day. I left to cover environmental issues as an independent producer and host of green radio shows. Ten years later I decided TV has the advantage of showing both the problems and the people with solutions and have been pitching the news networks on what would be the first program dedicated to addressing our urgent eco-challenges. I would love to have been on that panel to share insider insights. Over the years I have heard every excuse in the book from program execs resistant to offering content on climate and green solutions, none of them legitimate in my strong view. Their responses are revealing in terms of them not recognizing the game-changing potential of getting America to wake up and smell the carbon.

Van Jones was on my Air America radio show on World Environment Day in 2005 before he was well known. I was so impressed with his brilliance and bold ideas that I told him he should be in the White House and after our in-studio interview I suggested he use “Green Collar Jobs” as a renaming of his then movement, “Green Jobs, Not Jails” because I loved his vision of training underprivileged youth to work in solar and other green sectors (I hate waste and there is nothing worse than a life wasted). He ran with it and used it in the title of his best-selling book, “The Green Collar Economy.” Fast forward to 2017 and since I had recently pitched CNN on a climate series I was particularly interested in his thoughts on the news networks’ near-failure to connect the dots between recent record-breaking hurricanes, floods, wildfires and a warming earth. If more emphasis was put on what’s fueling these devastating weather events by CNN, MSNBC and the Big 3 (ABC, CBS, NBC), then FOX would not have the undue influence it has had in fomenting the politicization of climate and other environmental threats, thwarting both political and public progress as FOX actively sows dissension, doubt, and denial.

The most pertinent comments, for my purposes, came from Amy Goodman who said we need media that makes these connections, as she has done so well on her award-winning Pacifica radio program. Goodman has long been fearless, an outspoken critic of the so-called corporate media and its repeated failure to explain why we are seeing such devastating weather events. Her reporting on Standing Rock was a stand-out and she even got arrested briefly as a result. When she turned to Jones and asked why CNN spends so little airtime discussing climate change, he replied that whenever they tried to discuss the topic, the ratings would go down, according to his bosses.

I have heard that before—from Van and a few CNN staffers—-and question how they can even track ratings based on such fleeting mentions. I also wonder when they last tested that since, as Amy said onstage, everything has changed in light of the recent hurricanes and fires, the latest evidence of “weather on steroids.” I loved what Van went on to say and with some dramatic flourish, “there are only two things we cannot recover from and we are now seeing both, runaway climate change and the prospect of nuclear war. The way we live can kill us and the way we kill can kill us all. These two existential threats should get us very focused and very calm to build the kind of movement that can win the country back over. Anything we’re doing that’s not that is a criminal waste of time.” That strong statement rang true, not only with me but with the audience that applauded loudly.

When pushed further by Goodman on whether CNN has an anti-climate stance, Jones paused briefly to consider and offered—by way of observation more than justification—that “the public is ahead of corporate media and politics which will have to catch up,” adding “the news media and political parties don’t lead anything, they’re lucky if they’re the caboose at the end of the train. What leads stuff, he concluded, is the people.”

While I definitely agree with Van’s belief that the major news networks are not trailblazers, in my view the people have spoken. In the last few years alone hundreds of thousands of Americans have marched, as well as across the world, to demand action and leadership. The People’s Climate March in 2014 was almost entirely ignored by the New York-based news networks in terms of coverage, despite 400,000 turning out in Manhattan alone. Never mind that the march went right past several of the big network headquarters. Last April two back to back science and climate marches in Washington D.C.— and around the country—did get decent coverage from the big cable and broadcast news networks, but there was still something important missing from the coverage. There were zero climate scientists, environmental experts or advocates doing in-studio commentary. Instead, CNN and MSNBC, which I monitored, had their “political analysts” on discussing climate as a political issue, framing it as a Trump vs. climate activists competition, as if there were competing teams in a sporting event. This is a recurring problem that perpetuates the status quo of avoiding serious discussion of the urgency, irreversible ecological and humanitarian consequences and economic impact of a warming world and all its manifestations. If the public doesn’t see it on the news, how serious a problem could it really be? In other words it is something they can ignore.

So while Van makes a good point, especially the news media lagging on taking climate as seriously as the threat would dictate, in my view that is no reason to excuse or let those tasked with informing the public off the hook. I can see where Van may not want to challenge his bosses but I sure wish someone would enlighten them! Since when should what is covered be determined by ratings? And perhaps viewers would be more interested if they had a better understanding of consequences that can be mitigated and opportunities inherent in the crisis.

If I seem to be harping on this it’s because I firmly believe (and have fought to change this for two decades) that until there is better coverage and connecting of causal dots, the misinformation—and paralysis—will continue. And while a failing climate, warming oceans, and collapsing ecosystems are not the only arena in which there is political gridlock and media malpractice, these are challenges that will not be easily reversed, if at all. Time is key and enough citizens have spoken up and taken to the streets that there is no legitimate reason in 2017 for the climate silence, and same for other eco threats. At the same time there is an underlying environmental literacy issue that must be addressed. I cannot think of a better use of mass media channels than this given that is at stake.

I would love to have asked some follow up questions of Van but as is usually the case, most of the speakers didn’t stick around after their presentations, which is unfortunate.

A few highlights from Sunday morning included David Orr, an author and Oberlin environmental studies professor, and Opal Tometi, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter. There was one standout presentation from someone who did not stand very tall but who loomed large in every other way. Thirteen-year-old Elijah Coles-Brown, a young orator who appears to have what it takes to be an up and coming Barack Obama, captivated the audience with his mature mannerisms and motivating message about rising above being bullied “when I was young.”

It was also unfortunate that I didn’t have time to tour Omega’s Center for Sustainable Living, touted for its LEED Platinum building certification and state-of-the-art water reclamation facility—but now I have reason to return next year for one of their many workshops on topics ranging from personal growth to social change. In addition to the usual self improvement programming fare I was impressed to see Omega offering innovative programs for Veterans including yoga and other modalities to help vets heal from the trauma of war.

I left Omega feeling recharged for the battles ahead but already just one month later, there have been two more mass shootings, a terror attack in downtown Manhattan, and a steady stream of affronts to our senses coming from occupants of the White House.

As I struggle to retain the sense of community and shared purpose that was palpable at Omega, I find myself clinging to one overarching hope; that with all the shaking up exposing an underbelly of what’s wrong with America in terms of inequity, hypocrisy, sexual predators and just plain evil, it is painfully evident that the old ways are not working and will not get us where we want and need to go in order to thrive. If indeed the time has arrived for karma calls to manifest then bring it on but we can’t get through this alone. More than 500 attended the weekend at Omega with 2,500 participating in the live stream but organizers want to share it with a much wider audience.

The way the world is going there will be challenges anew to tackle and while I do believe change begins with ourselves—and that was certainly an overarching theme to the weekend— it is also true that there are still not enough of us needed to fight all the hate, falsehoods, denial and polarization we see reflected in the news every day. This has always been the challenge but with a growing sense of urgency I feel too impatient to wait for enlightenment to spread person to person.

I guess I should meditate on that but in the meantime please spread the word that what happened in Rhinebeck doesn’t have to stay in Rhinebeck. For another month, until December 14th, you can access all the presentations I’ve written about, and many others I couldn’t cover, for a mere $5 fee that helps to offset the costs of bringing the conference to a worldwide audience. You can find the link at https://www.eomega.org/online-workshops/being-fearless-on-demand

I encourage you to check it out for your own well being, all of our sakes, and mostly for our children who deserve to have a future they can look forward to and not dread.

My takeaways are that it’s necessary to shore up for the long haul while being prepared for short term setbacks. Barring nuclear attack or climate meltdown, we’ll be around for the foreseeable future. While there is plenty to be upset about we only have one precious life so we ought not let anyone, or anything, ruin it. In the end Donald Trump isn’t worth it. Just don’t stop caring because we need all of us to get through these dark but dynamic days.

After all the Accolades Some Inconvenient, Inexplicable and Inexcusable Truths Still Remain

Al Gore’s pivotal film, An Inconvenient Truth (AIT), put climate change on the world map, and got many Americans thinking, and talking, about this worsening existential threat. There has been real progress with much of it coming in late 2015, including President Obama’s executive actions, Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si and the pivotal Paris Agreement. Last week’s tributes to Gore and the film’s producers were welcome and deserved. Some of us who had been concerned, and communicating about global warming for years prior, thought AIT would change everything. It didn’t.

A decade later there remain glaring gaps that are key to wider public acceptance and much needed mass action. What’s still missing comprises a long list, but at the top I put a lack of credible information and inspiration, programming aimed at the general public coming from mainstream news outlets, both broadcast and cable, and on the television and radio networks. There’s a sustainability revolution underway but you’d never know it if you just get your news from the networks only. It’s far bigger than the information or tech revolution for this one will determine our collective fate.

While world leaders, government agencies, insurance companies and corporate America have begun to take the threat(s) seriously, national news outlets are still (with a few exceptions) ignoring the biggest story of our time—what’s happening to nature, our life support system—at our own hands. Inexplicably, none of the news networks are offering any programming to educate the public, nor providing a national forum for discussing solutions about what citizens and communities can do to have a positive impact. News executives do not see this as their responsibility and assume few care enough to tune in. They also don’t know what they don’t know.

I believe they are wrong on both counts but trying to convince program executives of that, let alone get a meeting, has been a frustrating focus of mine, going back even before Gore’s film came out. In fact his was among the networks we pitched when he and Joel Hyatt owned Current TV! Gore was on my radio show when An Inconvenient Truth debuted and I’ve been trained by him, as part of his Climate Reality Project, so he knows that I’m qualified. Gore turning down a ready-to-go show on climate change while lambasting mainstream media for ignoring the issue was a little more than inconvenient – I have filed that one under “Inexplicable”.

In an anniversary interview last month Gore repeated his still apt line about how weather reports are starting to sound like The Book of Revelations. And it’s only getting worse. Last week southeastern Texas experienced its second “1 in 500 year flood” with nine lives lost. At last report fires were still burning in Canada’s tar sands territory and India melted a new high temperature record of 124 degrees Fahrenheit. Parts of Sri Lanka were under 8 feet of water and nearly 25-million Americans were in the path of severe storms carrying Wizard of Oz-like “monster tornados” touching down in Kansas and Nebraska. Weather conditions in Minneapolis were so severe that crowds at Beyonce’s concert had to evacuate the stadium. As Dorothy might say if she dropped in today, “Tornados, fires, and floods, Oh My”!

News anchors, reporters and weather people are, for the most part neglecting to connect the dots, even if only tentatively. So the public remains indifferent and the beat goes on. As well as the heat. As I write this hundreds of residents in the north of L.A. community of Calabasas are being evacuated as a 200 acre fire spreads in near 100 degree weather

Also missing in action is any meaningful discussion about the climate crisis during yet another presidential cycle. In the primary debate season moderators failed to ask substantive questions about the candidates’ plans to tackle climate change. When they did throw in a fleeting mention, there was no grilling of dismissive Republicans who dare still call it “a hoax,” including the apparent nominee, Donald Trump, who is by his own accounts “not a great believer.” That, while Trump petitions to build a seawall to protect his latest acquisition, a golf course in Ireland. Thanks to Bernie Sanders—who has long been a climate champion in the Senate—the topic has at least been raised, prompting Hillary Clinton to mention her clean energy plans more often on the campaign trail and to come out against the Keystone XL project. Continuing the climate silence giving short shrift to a phenomenon that is already altering life on earth, as we’ve known it, for yet another election cycle, is truly inexcusable.

As another climate champion in the Senate, Sheldon Whitehouse, said in a recent Time to Wake Up Senate speech, “We are sleepwalking through history as carbon piles up in the atmosphere…sitting on our hands acting helpless.” I would add that we are acting like clueless zombies and our culture is complicit in making that okay.

The persistent sad fact is that there is no government or media entity offering citizens and communities advice on how to reduce emissions and help reverse other troubling eco-trends. Of course there is plenty of information on the worldwide web and available through membership in environmental organizations like the Sierra Club and NRDC. But that requires becoming a member or actively seeking out material, which primarily is done by the already eco-aware. Why not make the best thinking on the part of experts more widely available and easily accessible? Given the scope and urgency of these multiple and overlapping crises, it is inexplicable that we are not seeing more mainstream programming focused on exploring the issues, discussing options for what’s needed to scale up. What are we waiting for, all of Greenland to melt? Until it IS too late to stop runaway climate destruction? Or until—perish the thought—we have a climate “disbeliever” in the White House, someone who likely has the heaviest per capita eco-footprint in the world with all of his buildings, boats, golf courses and planes? Not to mention hot air.

Dallas, We Have A Solution — How the Largest Earth Day Event is Tackling Some Texas Size Problems

Earth Day Tx was so many things, many of them firsts for me. That’s why it’s taken this veteran green journalist-turned-advocate two weeks to fully process the rare and timely experience, enough to be able to write about it with proper perspective.

For starters, the founder of what began in 2011 as Earth Day Dallas, is an anomaly. Trammell S. Crow is a Republican businessman, arts patron and philanthropist, the son of his namesake who was one of the nation’s most successful real estate developers. Crow is also an environmentalist, perhaps the most interesting one I have met – and I’ve been interviewing thousands of eco-notables since Earth Day 1997! Among my favorite guests were those who were unexpected like Republican conservationists. Topping that list were Ted Roosevelt IV, Bob Inglis—the South Carolina congressman who was voted out of office in 2010 in part due to his growing concerns about climate change—and Martha Marks who started Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP) 20 years ago. I started reporting on environmental news because it never made sense to me that issues so essential to ALL of us should be politicized and marginalized—relegated to eco-activists.

That’s why I was intrigued by Crow, who told me in an interview on opening day of what was, on Friday, Earth Day Texas--and has now morphed yet again into the broader EARTHx—that his green leanings took root in his backyard as a pre-teen. The now gray haired, pony-tail-sporting enigma is still motivated by his backyard, he wants to “keep it green.”

That is where and when Crow says his older brother first uttered the word “environmental.” Crow’s sibling grew up to be a builder like their father, but not a green builder, Crow added as if reading my mind—no LEED designations anywhere in his developments—but the younger Crow grew up to love nature, nurture it, and grow increasingly concerned about the fate of our planet if we continue with business as usual. Over the years he tried to talk to fellow Texans—especially Republicans—about climate change, the endangered Monarch butterfly and countless other threats to our eco-systems, but that wasn’t enough.

In 2011 Crow put his money where his mouth was to create what is now his baby, his passion, and likely, his legacy. In his own words, well-seasoned with a Texas drawl, “the awareness level in Texas was so so low that I wanted to help that along.”

I first heard about Crow from Bill Shireman, himself a Republican businessman turned sustainability leader. Shireman founded Future 500 in 1995 and has been bringing corporations together to get serious about greening their bottom lines—in the eco sense, as well as dollars and cents—moving towards what is now generally known as the “triple bottom line.”

Several years ago Shireman, who was another of my favorite guests, wrote about how Trammell Crow was gathering green business leaders, environmental activists, innovators and investors to begin building what would immediately become the largest Earth Day event in Texas, and later the U.S. After all, Crow is a Texan, so of course he’d set out to make the event the biggest and best! It was Crow’s ambitious goal to bring the top influencers from the sustainability community together to address the most pressing environmental problems—by 2020—that got my attention. What kind of crazy optimist would put that mission impossible out there for print, and in such a short time frame? Did he know something I didn’t about our ability to address the complex challenges of climate change, coral and bee die-off, sixth mass extinction underway, warming oceans, deforestation and so much more? Or, did I know too much to do anything but laugh at that audacious target? Given Crow’s track record of business and civic leadership, I was determined to find out.

This year, with President Trump leaving so many of us who care about what’s happening to nature—our life support system—discouraged, depressed and even despairing about our ecological future, I decided it was time to make pilgrimage to Dallas. I had to see and hear for myself how Crow was doing with his moon-shot goal to save Mother Earth, now just three years shy of 2020, or at least to begin turning the tide. His approach, like Shireman’s, to inspire leadership across party lines and sectors, is so clearly needed now more than ever to rise about the noise.

My first glimpse of him was shortly after arriving onsite, at the Texas fairgrounds. The event’s communications director was showing me around the vast exhibit hall when we suddenly spotted him, moving through the crowd with his team, seemingly creating his own weather system. You could almost feel the energy as the crowd parted to make way for Crow as he bobbed and weaved, even walking backwards for a few seconds while continuing to talk, and listen, to his clipboard-toting entourage. My initial impression was that of witnessing a whirling dervish, looking more like a social change agent than an heir to a development fortune. That’s what makes him so intriguing: he is both of those—and more.

When we sat down to do an interview a few hours later it didn’t take long to pick up on his dry sense of humor and deep-voiced Southern gentlemanly charm. Among the questions I could not wait to ask: how was he doing on that 2020 goal and, as a Republican environmentalist who cares enough to gift this event to the people of Dallas, how does he feel about Trump and his cabinet picks rolling back progress? As if I was not curious enough, fellow Texan and former Governor, now Energy Department head Rick Perry, was the speaker at lunch. Even more stunning, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, was expected later in the afternoon. He is public enemy number one, in the eyes of many a climate activist, especially since famously telling CNBC’s “Squawk Box” in March that he did not believe greenhouse gas emissions were a primary contributor to climate change! I couldn’t believe he was appearing on the same day Congress’ top climate advocate—Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat from Rhode Island—had kicked off the event with his usual full-throated call for action on the twin climate and ocean crises. Talk about whiplash! The political juxtaposition was both unsettling and fascinating.

In response to both inquiries, Crow ducked—saying, in essence, we’ll have to see—but he did it in such a charismatic way that I didn’t have the heart to grill him on what would seem to be some supreme cognitive dissonance, both in terms of solving the environmental crises by 2020 and having Perry and Pruitt—climate activists’ worst fears embodied—there to speak, on Earth Day no less. Although it did not come up in our interview, I later read that Crow does, in fact, have specific markers in mind for the global companies, influencers and investors he has organized, over the next few years leading up to “The Earth Day 50 Challenge.”

Perry and Pruitt did not disappoint. After listening to each closely I came away with the same impressions of them that I had going in: of Perry as an affable enough but somewhat clueless politician—who famously forgot the name of the department he would go on to run, during the 2012 Presidential election—and Pruitt as a smooth, slick, and smiling fox in charge of the henhouse he sued more than a dozen times while Attorney General of Oklahoma. Strangely, in his short talk, he continuously repeated the line “We don’t have to choose between jobs and the environment,” a line borrowed from Democrats who have had to correct Republicans—whom, to this day—repeat that nearly every time regulations to safeguard protections are criticized as “job-killers.” Their double-speak spin strategy makes my head spin and blood pressure rise.

During Pruitt’s talk several protesters stood up and shouted at him, one calling him “a monster” whose administration, by rejecting the abundant evidence of human-caused climate change, is “gutting the EPA and condemning everyone in the future to a world of hell.” As he was being escorted out by Pruitt’s security guards (he reportedly now has eight to ten on staff) the heckler shouted to Pruitt, “How much money are you being paid?” It was a dramatic moment that underscored the wonderfully incongruent nature of an event that brought together high-level Republicans in an anti-environment administration with climate concerned activists and green-leaning folks of all shades. I couldn’t swear on it but I believe neither Trump’s energy nor environment chiefs ever mentioned the words “climate change,” a double sin of omission on the role of carbon emissions.

On more than one occasion I heard organizers state their event was “unobstructed by politics and fueled by community energy.” A noble slogan and goal, and to a great extent manifested from what I witnessed. In this heated national moment of polarized politics—while the polar ice caps melt—the stakes feel unusually high so it did not surprise me to see some raw emotions surfacing. Especially on Earth Day when hundreds of thousands of Americans marched for science, including thousands who culminated the Dallas demonstration, appropriately enough, at the 200+ acre Fair Park site.

I give Crow and his team kudos for attracting so many Texans, and beyond—from the eco-curious to the converted choir—and bringing together “unlikely bedfellows.” Although I was too busy attending talks, watching green films (more about that in Part 2) and doing interviews to interact with many attendees, the numbers speak volumes. With some 400 speakers and 130, 000 in attendance last year with nearly that many this year, Earth Day Dallas-turned Earth Day Texas—now renamed the simpler “EARTHx”is by far the largest such event. When you consider the more than 900 exhibitors and 1,700 booths, you begin to get a sense of the range and impact of this Expo.

Clearly Trammell S. Crow has created something unique and lasting, a real world example of the oft-used phrase, “conservation begins in your own backyard.” However, Crow and his team do not want it to end there. They want attendees to take what they’ve, seen, heard and experienced back out to their communities and to engage with it. Then they hope attendees will come back for more of what Crow calls “saturation” next year, bringing family, friends and colleagues to fill up their “empty sponges” with information and inspiration.

As the man with a Texas sized green goal said, “If we can turn Texas, we can turn the nation, and if we can turn the nation we can turn the world.” After meeting Crow I would not bet against him.

Part Two: What To Do About Our Planetary Pickle? The Answer(s) Could Be Blowing in the Texas Wind!

Until I attended America’s largest Earth Day Expo and its parallel EARTHxFilm Festival in Dallas two weeks ago, I had no idea that Texas was America’s top wind power state. Oil state? Of course. Full of gas? Guess so. But wind, who knew? I’m from California—the San Francisco Bay Area to be exact—living in a green bubble, though even we are not nearly as eco-savvy as we could be and people might presume.

Let’s face it, when it comes to protecting our eco-sphere, the place we all call home that makes all life possible—or not—there’s a lot for each of us to learn and not a lot of time to come up to speed. That sentiment—a desire to learn and share what can be learned about our rapidly changing environment and climate—is what inspired founder Trammell S. Crow.

When I think of Texas I think of a few things, all of them supersized: BIG petroleum companies that sometimes cause BIG oil spills, BIG beef producers, and BIG cities like Houston and Dallas with world class shopping. With those stereotypical and simplistic views, I was overdue for a second visit, and excited to be covering what is now billed as the BIGGEST Earth Day gathering in the world. My first trip to Dallas was a decade ago when asked to speak at the Texas Women’s Conference on climate change. I recall being stunned to learn that then Governor Rick Perry rejected the evidence of human-caused climate change. . Those were the early days of climate denial and the concept that an elected official running a state as significant as Texas could ignore scientific consensus was too strange for me to comprehend. While I still don’t get or respect what I call “deny-o-saurs” we now know, all too well, what dark forces are fueling it.

This year, especially in the wake of Mr. Trump’s Cabinet picks for the EPA and Energy Department—not to mention his State Department choice, Exxon’s own Rex Tillerson—I was in need of an infusion of inspiration. I was curious about whether the event would look, feel and sound like so many of the West Coast hosted environmental gatherings I’ve covered during twenty years on the green beat.

The answer was both “yes” and “no.”

Since first hearing about the man with a BIG vision behind the six-year old event, I was eager to meet Crow. I was curious, as I always am when interviewing green visionaries, to learn what motivated him—an heir to a real estate development fortune and patron of the Arts—to spend his greenbacks spreading the green gospel around Dallas and beyond. I’ve since learned that Crow’s grand vision is BIGGER than his home city, BIGGER than even the State of Texas, AND the U.S. It’s only when one considers how quickly Earth Day Dallas has grown into Earth Day Texas and—as of last week—expanded to its new name, EARTHx—with a now national, and even international, focus—that one has to take Crow seriously when he says “If we can turn Texas, we can turn the country and, if we turn the country, we can turn the world.”

From the beginning, Crow’s strategy has been to build a big tent and put out a big welcome mat. EARTHx 2017 brought together not only environmental activists and NGO’s but also a diverse group of business leaders and politicians—many of them Republicans. The big names present included Bill Shireman, founder of Future 500 and an early contact of Crow’s who helped inspire the event, representatives as diverse as Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, a climate champion from Rhode Island, to the opposite end of the political spectrum, Energy Department head, Rick Perry, and the EPA’s Scott Pruitt. They all spoke on the same day, at separate venues, as did retired General Wesley Clark, an impressive and thoughtful presence. Talk about a change in climate!

“It’s about different parties getting in a room that don’t necessarily agree with each other,” according to Michael Cain, President of EARTHxFilm, “No one is excused from the table.”

Crow brought Cain, a Sundance award-winning filmmaker and co-founder of the Dallas International Film Festival, on board a year ago to launch an eco-themed film track to complement the rest of EARTHx. Topics this year ranging from climate change to conservation, plasticity, oceans, clean power solutions, GMOs, farming and extinction, comprised this year’s line-up of 23 full length feature films and 33 shorts. There were also filmmaking workshops and Virtual Reality exhibits.

If the theme of “something for everyone” is coming into view, that was in fact the focus. Cain set out to curate films that “connect to the head and heart” on a range of topics that mirror the trans-partisan programming track.

I was able to squeeze in two new movies, each of them equally impactful and well produced. The first was Plastic Ocean, which like Chasing Coral—one I had seen at Sundance in January but was also screened in Dallas—left an impression that haunts me still.

If images of fistfuls of plastic debris being removed from the carcasses of shore birds and fish don’t turn your stomach, you’re not paying attention. Especially, when one considers that plastic does not break down in the atmosphere or the ocean, and marine creatures are increasingly mistaking plastic bits for food as more debris reaches the ocean from streams and runoff. The sight of intact plastic beverage bottles bobbing on the ocean floor for perhaps eternity made me feel physically nauseous. That’s the potential of media done well and a perfect, if upsetting; example of what Cain calls “the power of film to change the world.” It’s a mixed blessing “to know” because plastic is so pervasive. But only when enough people are aware can things change.

The second film I previewed was Happenings, a mostly optimistic documentation of the exploding clean power sector from Jamie Redford—son of Robert—who matches his father when it comes to concern about our environment, but without the Hollywood trappings. The filmmaker takes us on a multi-state voyage as he seeks out examples of energy solutions in the works, from Apple’s clean powered data centers in the desert, to Marin County’s Green Energy option for residents and businesses. At one point in the film the younger Redford’s adolescent daughter is less than thrilled about new solar panels going up on the family’s Marin rooftop. When Jamie asks Lena (Redford) why she’s not more excited, she answers—with typical pre-teen snark—because it’s only one house.” What about everyone else?”

Hers is a good question and again fundamental to the challenges of educating and engaging the masses, to go beyond the margins in America’s greener pockets. The message resurfaces in one of the film’s final scenes when, returning from their green energy road trip, Jamie—at the wheel—appears despondent as they drive along the freeway. When Lena asks her Dad why he was so glum, he answered with the essence of her earlier comment—“Despite the few great examples we saw, what about everyone else?” She attempts to comfort her forlorn father but who among us who care—often caring too much while way too many others appear oblivious—cannot relate? The key to success—if we are to leave our children a healthy environment—is to amplify and scale the solutions, commensurate with the scope of the challenges.

This gets us back to Trammell Crow’s mission: to not let what happens in Dallas stay in Dallas. Instead, attendees are urged to interact with the material, whether it’s seeing a powerful film, hearing a provocative talk, or participating in a “hackathon” that featured 1,200 high school and college students attempting to address real-world environmental challenges in short order. There was also an E-Capital Summit, matching investors with start-up eco-preneurs, and more than 1,700 booths of all kinds. Indeed, there was something for everyone.

One of the highlights for me was the food, which was, decidedly, NOT your typical green event fare. At a fundraiser for forest preservation at a venue on the Fair Park site Saturday evening, “chicken fried lobster” was served and because it was so tasty—and there were a few empty seats at our table—I got seconds, and that’s a first.

Usually at climate and sustainability conferences the fare is much more “P.C.” – vegetarian or maybe organic chicken or “sustainably farmed” salmon is served…certainly not steak and lobster, but no complaints! On the one hand, I can appreciate the argument that such gatherings should serve as a model for sustainable living. On the other hand, the raw vegetable salad and quinoa served at lunch the day before, was a bit on the skimpy side—until I realized that it was just the appetizer when a plate of Texas beef was plopped down in front of a surprised me. I had just finished my delicious vegan lemon dessert because the baby vegetable slices had not quite filled me up. A few bites of the beef were enough but I must confess, it did taste good.

There were two other culinary signs that I was not in San Francisco anymore: 1) there was seemingly no coffee to be found anywhere on the 227-acre fairground sight, unheard of where I come from; and 2) in the media and volunteer center instead of the usual organic fruit and cheese platters, there were bags of BBQ Fritos and chocolate chip “health” bars. There was also a refrigerator filled with chilled soda. Desperate for a caffeine fix I helped myself to what was the first Coca-Cola I’ve had in years.

If it sounds like I’m complaining, I am not. I truly loved the contrast and cognitive dissonance that Crow has created, intentionally or not. For too long I have lamented that when I go to an environmental event–- whether a conference or a film screening— it’s the “usual suspects,” people I know to be active in the climate or sustainability communities. Where is everyone else? Even in my own supposedly progressive Marin County, I often ask myself, “where are the soccer moms, or people from my gym?” Many who comprise what I refer to as “the mainstream” were among the reported crowd of 114,000 this year. For someone who laments the slow spread of environmentalism from the margins to Main Street, it’s encouraging to know—with numbers so supersized—that surely hundreds of attendees who came, learned, watched and discussed what they experienced—will go on to become tomorrow’s “solutionaries.” For a builder like Crow it must be satisfying to know that he is laying a foundation for the next generation of leaders.

My overview of the mega-event would not be complete if I failed to mention the glitz factor, or what I call “Greenerati.” Although neither Leonardo DiCaprio nor Mark Ruffalo have yet made their way to Dallas for the biggest Earth Day Expo in the land, it’s just a matter of time before they do. This year actress Jennifer Beals (Flashdance) accepted an award with Michael Green of the Center for Environmental Health and Laura Turner Seydel (Ted’s daughter, also a committed environmentalist) and her husband Rutherford, walked the Green Carpet.—pictured above with Jessica and Matthew Upchurch. Additionally, there were a handful of eco-luminaries including Sylvia Earle, affectionately known by fans as “Her Deepness,” Captain Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd, and filmmaker Jeff Orlowski of Chasing Ice and soon to be released Chasing Coral fame. Louis Psihoyos, who directed pivotal films, including The Cove and Racing Extinction, also drew a crowd.

In the end, I loved spending my twentieth Earth Day since starting out on the green beat, in Texas. Where else can you find someone at the top who is so worth “crowing” about? And chicken fried lobster? As long as there is an ocean for such delicacies I’m down for that (though at the rate we’re warming our oceans, shellfish may someday be a thing of the past). I’m not pretending this type of food is sustainable, or exemplary, but it IS authentic Texan fare. In a world filled with fake news and alternative facts, I have a new appreciation for things that are real. I can also hold in high regard a strategic desire to appeal to all shades of green, PC or not, Texas style.

In Trammell S. Crow’s own words “they come here as empty sponges and they leave saturated. At least until next year when they come back for more.”

I hope to return as well, along with a few California grown suggestions of my own.

Subscribe

Broadcast Archives

Login